Jadon Sancho is one of the best young players in Europe, and he masterminded Borussia Dortmund’s victory against Bayern Munich in the DFL-Supercup. For a while last season it seemed as if Die Borussen could win the Bundesliga, finally toppling Bayern for the first time since 2011-2012. As it happened of course, Bayern proved too strong over the course of the season, pipping Dortmund to first place by two points for their seventh consecutive title, as the league went right down to the wire.
We have become accustomed to seeing the same teams winning titles repeatedly – Bayern included – but sooner or later, something surely has to give. It’s been all change at the Bavarian side this summer, with long-standing wingers Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben departing, the latter retiring. Having spent 12 and 10 seasons at the club respectively, they have seemed almost synonymous with Bayern’s success this decade. But now they have left, while James Rodríguez’s loan spell from Real Madrid has also ended.
All change at Bayern and Dortmund
Bayern still have a strong squad, with the likes of Robert Lewandowksi, Thomas Müller and David Alaba still at the Allianz Arena, and they broke their transfer record to sign defender Lucas Hernández from Atlético Madrid this summer in an €80m deal. On the other hand, they do have losses to cope with, and many of their long-standing players are getting older. Jérôme Boateng and Lewandowski are on the verge of turning 31, and 33-year-old goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, arguably the best in the world for a time, is on the decline. These aren’t immediately pressing concerns, but Bayern cannot ignore that Dortmund have undoubtedly strengthened.
Selling centre-back Mats Hummels back to Dortmund for his second spell at the club was an interesting decision from Bayern, the 30-year-old costing €38m. He is reunited with midfielder Mario Götze, still a very good footballer even if he has perhaps not hit the heights anticipated since that World Cup goal, and forward Marco Reus. After suffering from recurring injury problems in recent seasons, Reus had a productive campaign last time out, scoring 17 league goals and assisting eight more, and looks to be back to his best.
The main incoming transfers of both teams this summer are as follows:
Mats Hummels (Bayern)
Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Nico Schulz (Hoffenheim)
Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen)
Paco Alcácer (Barcelona)
Lucas Hernández (Atlético Madrid)
Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart)
Jan-Fiete Arp (Hamburg)
Youth and experience – getting the balance right
Returning back to Jadon Sancho, it appears as if the European football media are running out of superlatives with which to describe him. The Englishman, not even 20 years old until next March, was on fire when played in his preferred position on the right wing last season, and is sure to only get better. Right-back Achraf Hakimi remains on loan from Real Madrid for another season, and he’s another young talent that will improve as the season goes on. They’ve also brought in Thorgan Hazard, younger brother of Eden, from Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt. At 26 and 23, they are set to offer more options going forward for the next few years.
Dortmund and Bayern are similar to each other in some ways – they both have a mix of youth and experience, with players harking back to their successes earlier in the decade. Dortmund will enjoy having Mats Hummels about the place again, and he will doubtless prove a good influence on up-and-coming centre-backs Dan-Axel Zagadou and the young Argentine Leonardo Balerdi. Łukas Piszczek remains at the club aged 34, offering experience alongside Marcel Schmelzer, Hummels and Reus.
Likewise, Bayern have young talent in the form of Renato Sanches, and 20-year-old forward Jann-Fiete Arp. Sanches will be looking to kick on after a couple of difficult seasons (remember that ill-fated spell at Swansea?) and could easily end up fufiilling his potential as one of the hottest young talents In Europe. Centre-back Lars Lukas Mai, the first player born in 2000 to play in the league for Bayern, might also hope to get more first-team appearances under his belt. And then there’s Serge Gnabry, the 24-year-old winger who has been something of a revelation in Germany after never really fulfilling his potential at Arsenal.
Who will win the league?
Ultimately, it remains to be seen who will win the league. Both teams have the quality, and it might come down to who the other Bundesliga sides can get lucky against and take more points from. Or perhaps RB Leipzig could claim a title after starting to establish themselves as a fixture in the Champions League places? They have quality, with the likes of Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg, but it might be another few years before they can really challenge.
The Bundesliga is set to excite and enthral again this term, as two of the best European teams of the decade slug it out again, with a supporting cast including British talent in the form of Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig), Reece Oxford (FC Augsburg), and Jonjoe Kenny (Schalke, on loan from Everton). Nonetheless, Dortmund are once again serious contenders, and with Bayern in transition, it might just be their year.